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Do you belong to the Better Business Bureau?

October 16, 2010
We have been a member of the Better Business Bureau for years. We joined for one reason: to gain credibility in the eyes of our customers. Several years ago I was honored to be asked to serve on the board of the Bureau. As a board member, I have learned what is considered appropriate advertising, how to handle consumer complaints, and also what I needed in my return policy, among other things. I thought it would be interesting to share what I have learned about return polcies.

In Louisiana, there is no law requiring a retail store to take any product back for any reason. In addition, there is no Louisiana or municipal law that even requires me to have a return polity. So, I have the flexibility of deciding whether to have a return policy and what that policy should look like. Consumers, on the other hand, think that they have legal rights  to return products. In particular, they think there's something called the "Cooling-off" rule which allows them to return something for any reason within three days of their purchase. The most recent edition of the Better Business Bureau newsletter addresses this issue and what they said might come as a surprise to you as a retailer and certainly to consumers.

There actually is something known as the "Cooling-off" rule. The Federal Trade Commission states that if a consumer buys an item worth $25 or more in their home or location other than the seller's permanent place of business, they have until midnight of the third business day after the sale to let the company know they want to cancel the contract or simply ask for their money back. Unless you are going out to your client's location to take an order, our customers are buying outdoor furniture in a local retail store which means their purchase does not qualify for the "Cooling-off" rule.

There is an exception which relates to retail transactions at a store. That exception allows retailers to establish their own return policy. Many major retailers have policies that will allow a consumer to bring back anything, at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all). However store policy is just that, a store's particular policy, and is only applicable at that store. Just because a major retailer has a liberal policy that allows a consumer to return an item that was open, used, abused, perhaps not even purchased at that store, for a store credit, doesn't mean that the next store must have the same policy.

However, most of us being in the specialty business, do want to accommodate our clients' needs as much as possible. This means most of us have established a return policy. Our policy is pretty straightforward. It states that all returns must be made within seven days of purchase and items must be in new condition. In addition we will charge a 15% restocking fee on any furniture, umbrellas, or fountains which are returned within seven days of purchase. We require that the customer have a receipt to get a refund. Otherwise, we will issue a 90 day store credit. The entire policy is preprinted on the back of our customer's receipt. Just to be sure, we also have our return policy prominently displayed at the checkout area.

You can't imagine how many times having a formal return policy has saved our skin. It is not unusual for customers to take delivery of furniture on a Saturday and call us back to say they want to return it on Monday. Now, I don't know if they wanted the furniture for a  party,; but, I'm just saying. . . We've also had occasions where a customer has purchased furniture in a particular color only to decide a day or two  after delivery that the colorway just isn't right. In some cases they want to exhange the furniture for a different color. In others, they just want to return the furniture and get their money back.

With any return policy, it is important to remember that there are going to be times when you are going to want to make an exception. Take, for example, the customer who has been buying from you for years and has never returned anything. You would probably want to treat them differently from a customer who's never been in the store before and insists on returning their first purcahse from you for no good reason.  In the case of a customer who decides that the color we delivered just isn't right and they want to exchange it for another color; I see no reason not to help them. We would do the exchange and not charge a restocking fee. In the case where they don't like the color and want to return it for a refund, we would charge them the restocking fee.

After all these years as a member, I still think the most important reason to belong to the Bureau is because it brings credibility to my business. Our history with consumers has resulted in an  A+ BBB rating.  We got that rating through hard work, by being very attentive to our customers needs, and by treating our customers as we would like to be treated when we make a purchase. We all realize our customers are researching furniture on the Internet before they come see us. Be assured  many of them are also researching our reputations at the same time. They do this by searching for us on the website of their local Better Business Bureau. If you have an A+ rating and your competition has a B, I'm betting the consumer is going to come to you even if your pricing is higher. To me, BBB membership fees are just a cost of doing business and one that I am not willing to cut - - - even in the hardest of times.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce